Looking in the Right Light

If you've ever painted a room, or installed a new material only to find when the job is done - that you really don't like it? If it hasn't happened to you, it's probably happened to someone you know.

The truth is, color is light. If your lighting is wrong, color lies.

Color changes depending on its surroundings; it's environmentally subjective. To avoid disappointment, make sure you look at your paint, carpet, wood or wallcovering sample in the right light. So, what is the right light? It might help to reframe the question by asking: 

What is the wrong light?

Store lighting. Unless you have your home or office lit like a warehouse, the way you see color in the store is not the way you'll see it in your own home. Even the lighting in a showroom likely will not illuminate color the same way it will in your own environment.

Direct sunlight.
Never look at anything in direct sunlight. It will wash the color out and amp you up for disappointment. This includes exterior colors and materials. Don't lay them flat in the middle of the driveway; they will look different once installed. Instead stand your samples up vertically in an area with some indirect natural light.
Dim light. If you don't have enough light, you can't see. If you look at your samples in dim lighting, when you're surprised that it doesn't look good when you project is complete and fully lit, it's because now you can actually see it. In dim lighting you'll miss all the nauances, the highlights, lowlights and accents of color and material.

Digital light. When scrolling through color samples or material swatches online, be wary. Though digital imaging and calibration technology have made big strides for improved color accuracy, what you see on your monitor can still be deceptive. The color you see is dependent on the quality of your screen and typically each screen shows them a little different.

Jennifer working with Virginia Tile to pull samples for review on site at a custom residential project in St. Joseph, Michigan.

How do I get the right light?

Just because color is complex and subjective doesn't mean it has to be terribly complicated. The following simple steps will ensure you see your colors and materials in the right light, and will give you greater confidence when making final selections for your space.

Get a sample. Call a designer, call a distributor, see if you can order online. Whatever you do, do not make any decisions until you have seen a sample. 

Take it home. Once you have a sample in hand, bring it into your own environment. An interior designer will do this for you and/or with you to review your colors and materials and offer expertise and direction. Be sure when you have it home, to view it under the type and level of lighting that you will have at the end of your project. If you're lighting is being updated, do your best to recreate your final desired lighting during your review. 

Go see it. If you can't get a sample in your work or home environment due to size, time constraints, or availability, find someplace where you can go see it. Ask about what type of lighting you can view it under on site, otherwise, get creative and figure out a way to bring your own travel-sized light source when you go. When you can, bring an interior designer with you.

Watch it change. View it during different times of day; dawn, dusk and midday, lights on, lights off. Changes in natural light and in lamping will reveal subtleties and variation of color and material.

Pull it together. To get any sense of the overall effect of color and material, keep all your samples together. Try arranging them in different ways to acheive a balanced palette. If you plan to have a tiny bit of a bold color in your space, don't look at a sample that is bigger than all your other samples. Use small samples for small items: fold it, cut it, scissors or razor blade (with care & caution!). If you are considering anything with a pattern, make sure you have appropriately sized samples so that you get a good sense of scale and how often the pattern repeats.

Seems like common sense, but it's easy to forget. You'd be surprised how many times these simple steps are missed or forgotten and what a huge difference each one makes. Lighting influences color dramatically, remember to look in the right light.